Here's my list of books read during July. I find it interesting to summarize the books. It forces me to contemplate what I've read a bit more deeply.
You Live Once -- John D. MacDonald (1952)
You wake up to find the woman you were with the night before strangled to death in your closet. Now what? Hint. Don't sneak the body into the trunk of your car and dump it in the woods. Vagabond, corporate executive Clinton Sewell puts himself in a desperate situation and the only way out is through a swamp of small town secrets, infidelities and old money. The outcome struck me as bit obvious but still hard to believe. Along the way, though, it was vintage MacDonald, including both his overripe descriptions of the male/female relationship and his sharp observations of corporate life.
Anansi Boys -- Neal Gaiman (2005)
"Fat Charlie" Nancy, a perfectly normal young man with a perfectly normal life, discovers that his recently deceased father was more than just an embarassing eccentric -- he was a spider god, the West African trickster Anansi. Fat Charlie also learns he has a brother, Spider, who is a bit of a god himself. When Spider comes to visit, Fat Charlie's normal life is soon in ruins. Charlie's attempts to regain normalcy send him careening through wildly unpredicatble and fantastic adventures. The book is a hilarious mixture of myths and the mundane. Gaiman's brilliant style maximizes the humor.
The Reader -- Bernard Schlink (1995)
This is a story about a fifteen-year old's affair with a much older woman and the effect it has on his life. It is also a story about post WW II Germany. I don't want to say more. The back cover, which I wisely didn't read until I had finished, reveals the plot right up to the middle! Not that the plot is the most important element here. This is a simply and elegantly written book, one that leaves the reader with a variety of questions to ponder. Much is left unsaid, much remains uncertain. The first person narrator has his own, appealing interpretation of events, but I am not so sure that interpretation is totally accurate.
The Apple that Astonished Paris -- Billy Collins (2006)
I hate country music, except for Hank Williams (and Hank Williams III actuallly) and I hate poetry, except for Billy Collins. His poems strike me as a quirkly little essays. One poem is from the point of view of the vanishing point. Another ends up contemplating the very last word in Anna Karenine, yet another speculates abot the "blue" out of which bolts come. He seems to have an endless capacity for seeing the world from angles I can't believe I never thought of because they seem so perfect once he's pointed them out.
The Road -- Corrmac McCarthy (2007)
An unnamed boy and his father trek across a post-apocalyptic world, trying to survive until they reach the coast. Nothing is left but ruins and ashes. The only living things are humans, reduced to a state lower than beasts. I found the book compulsive reading, though I am not sure why. It's pretty obvious that there are no happy endings in a dead world, populated by people seeking to cannibalize each other. Whene I read about politics and business, it seems to me that we are getting umcomfortably close to the world of McCarthy's Road..
Byzantine Magic --ed. Henry MaGuire (1995)
This collection of papers from a Dumbarton Oakes colloquium dealing with various aspects of Byzantine magic sounds in places like a page from H.P.Lovecraft. For example the ancient history of Choniates which refers to "the notebook of Chloros which was filled with all manner of impiety including incantations, chants, and names of demons”" and "the foul books of Phouduoulis". The authors trot out for inspection an endless variety of amulets, divinations, incantations, and other magical mummery. But the question they return to repeatedly is where does one draw the line been magic and religion? When is a cross used in an Orthodox manner and when is it used an instrument of forbidden magic? What is the practical difference between summoning a Saint and summoning a demon? It would appear that to most Byzantines the distinctions were hazy indeed.
The Butcher's Boy -- Thomas Perry (1984)
The eponymous hitman of this non-stop action book, races back and forth across the United States, keeping one step ahead of the mob and about a mile ahead of a plodding Justice Department team. He needs to stay alive while he figures out who wants him killed. He's a genius at survival, luckily for him because in the almost surreally treacherous world depicted by Perry, crime bosses know everthing and have henchmen everywhere. I admit I was rooting for the Butcher's Boy even after he killed a perfectly innocent man within the first couple pages.
Stephen Hawking: Quest for a Theory of Everything -- Kitty Ferguson (1991)
I'm not sure it was a good idea to read this biography from 1991. A lot has happened in physics and Stephen Hawking's life in the past 20 years. How reliable is the book today? Still, it was interesting insofar as it placed Hawking's cosmological work in the context of his life. While he was trying to solve the mysteries of the universe he was also coping with school, jobs, and family responsibilites as we all do.